Friday, June 30, 2017

Why are they so cruel?

The gratuitous cruelty of the modern Republican Party leaves one asking: Why? Where did this come from? In an essay written more than a decade ago, when "compassionate conservatism" was the phrase that marked (for Bush II) a coverup of this cruelty, George Manbiot wrote in The Guardian an interesting essay tracing this ideology back to the Puritans of the 17th century.

You can find his article HERE.

As my daughter, an historian, points out, puritan thought was also wedded with neo-conservative ideology to produce the modern American Republican Party. Chicago School economists and other apologists for Big Money had maintained academically that the accumulation of wealth was the only measure of success in a capitalist society, and, in fact, gave the only meaning to virtue and value and worth therein. Thus, so-called economic "computations" proved that "greed is good" (in the immortal words of Gordon Gekko, and endorsed by Ronald Reagan).  So, "cold calculation" and economic theory were combined with puritan theology to give us the RMP ( = "Rich Man's Party", formerly the GOP). In summary, wealth was the only analytic measure of value and success, and this was ratified by the Will of God. Neat package, and so far quite politically successful here and abroad.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

More on "An Important Story in Kansas"

Well, you heard it first here (see June 11) blog: the Kansas legislature overrode Gov. Sam Brownback's veto of their tax increase. Since my blog, several other papers and magazines have picked up the story, most recently The American Prospect.

Of course, we're not hearing anything about it from the Democrats, who are applauding themselves for slowing the Republican replacement of Obamacare by TrumpCare. This is, indeed, an important development, but it is wise to remember that the Republicans are the least self-reflective group on earth, and that most of the small but significant subgroup of them who oppose TrumpCare are doing so for the worst reason: TrumpCare is not mean enough. Any normal human would realize that TrumpCare is, in the words of Chuck Schumer, "rotten to the core", reflecting contempt the health and intelligence of fellow humans. I'm glad that Susan Collins is worried about the effects of TrumpCare on her constituents, but come on Sen. Collins, that's a very mild response to a bill that takes away health care from people across the country (not just in Maine) so that rich people can have a tax break.

One final thing: I keep seeing letters in papers urging a greater "comity" in political discussions, especially of health care. The writers of these letters bemoan the references to TrumpCare as "an attack" and "an attempted murder." Well look, if Republicans make it impossible for low-income people to get the affordable healthcare they can now obtain, and some of these people get very sick but can't afford treatment, and then they die, how else would you describe Republican culpability? If a person were to be blindfolded and set down in the middle of a busy highway at night, wouldn't you describe that as "attempted murder"?

(I know the specious argument: You can always go to the emergency room. Yes, you can, if you are already spitting up blood -- when it's probably too late. That's why it's called an "emergency" room, not a "preventative medicine" room. In any case, large groups of doctors have already publicly stated that elimination of affordable health care will lead to deaths, so we can go with that expert opinion.)

In a related situation: suppose a pharmaceutical company lies about the habit-forming properties of its drugs; then users get hooked, then they die of overdoses when they try to feed their habits. Do the pharmaceutical companies have liability/culpability? Courts have already ruled yes on that.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

An important story in Kansas

While the papers have been filled with ex-FBI director Comey's testimony, there was a very interesting development that didn't get much play. The Kansas legislature overrode governor Sam Brownback's veto of a tax increase it had recently passed. You can read the story here: NY Times and here: Kansas City Star  (and other places as well).

There are several points that are important. First of all, Brownback is a pure and unapologetic exponent of the Republican gospel that tax cuts are always good and that, in fact, they actually pay for themselves by stimulating employment and business expansion. Among actual economists this is generally considered nonsense and is termed Voodoo Economics (along with its "trickle-down" twin). Whenever they can, Republicans try to install tax cuts and, in Trumpian fashion, proclaim that they are "vindicated" by the results. The fact is, there is no actual example showing their claim for tax cuts to be true. The last few Republican presidents (the Bushes) tried cutting taxes and in both cases they either had to backtrack (Bush Sr. and Reagan BTW) or their effort produced disaster (Bush Jr.)  

Yet, in spite of repeated failures, the tax cut dogma remains very much alive since it has the backing of the wealthy classes who think they don't need the government services that the taxes cut pay for. They are happy not to have to pay for roads (they have private jets, and go first-class everywhere) or job-training or health insurance subsidies etc. All the Republicans have to do is make sure that the actual failures of the "theory" stay hidden.

That's where the developments in Kansas are important. Brownback, along with a conservative Republican legislature pushed through tax cuts that led to draconian cutbacks in services at all levels in the state. Health and education and infrastructure programs were gutten for years. The people in Kansas found themselves living in a feudal-like economy, and made their displeasure known to their (conservative) representatives. But Brownback was firm in his embrace of Republican orthodoxy. However, there is one thing that Republicans like less than giving up their economic religion and that is being voted out of office. When they passed a budget authorizing a billion or so in tax increases to keep essentials of civilization working in Kansas, and governor Brownback vetoed them, they finally rebelled and recognized that Brownback was simply wrong and was destroying the state: they overrode his veto.

What about Democrats? Good question. They had a lot to say locally in Kansas, but very little in other states and in the national media. They were too busy not preparing for the 2018 elections, by attacking Trump and not fielding viable local candidates. They could have made a great video showing yet another proof that Republicans are living in a bubble, and that even conservative voters in Kansas were refuting  Republican myths. The override in red Kansas was not by elite liberals as Republicans would like to claim.

So far, nothing from the Democrats. What will happen, of course, is that Republicans will bury the story and claim, later, that their tax cut romance has been "vindicated" once again  (the way Trump declared that Comey's testimory vindicated him). Later references to the Kansas override by responsible media and Democrats will be referred to as fake news or partisan slant. Thus, once again, Democrats will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

DEMOCRATS: Wake up!  You need a skillful and agressive "ministry of propaganda" which will exploit Republican mistakes in a timely way to set the agenda and frame the issues.  We don't need amateurs whose hearts are in the right place, but the kind public relations experts who can generate contempt for Republicans and faith in Democrats.

Forget about Trump for a while and figure out how to win elections.